Tirthan Valley and The Great Himalayan National Park Trekking Experience
Where the word green took on a new meaning, where every step was an achievement, where your breathing was music to your ears, welcome to the Tirthan Valley Great Himalayan National Park Trek.
It was a motley group of trekkers, some of us newly inducted into the world of trekking, some who love doing it and hate everything else and some who were taking the plunge for the first time.
We had to catch a bus to Mandi from ISBT and as usual, I was running around trying to complete my work before disappearing into oblivion for the next three days. After hastily changing into my trekking gear in the office basement, Gigi - always the savior- gave me a ride to the nearest metro station. Dressed in my shorts and carrying my rucksack, I was feeling out of place in the ocean of office goers coming back from their daily drudgery, waiting for the metro to take them back to their homes. I was impatient to get away from all that the city stands for, board the Volvo from Kashmiri Gate and drove into the much-awaited, highly recommended jaunt into the valleys of Himachal.
I boarded the metro with Ritvij, my colleague, the organizer of the trek and a very dear friend, and we started counting the stops to our destination, from where the journey would start. We met Sudha, my best friend (…and definitely my better half) at the Kashmiri gate, metro station, and ran for our Bus which was scheduled to depart for Mandi. After customary shake hands and introductions with the rest of the group, we boarded the bus.
It’s almost as if you are whisked away to another world, you can see the mountains, hear the noise of the river rushing through the valley and smell the fresh green grass.
But wait, we were still on the bus and I was in my dreams!!! We stopped for dinner and breakfast. By now the initial apprehension within the group of strangers has thawed away we now knew each other’s name. I met Wakeel, who’s the Man-Friday for the trek, Bikat’s first employee a certified mountaineer and Nilu our cook.
We reached Gushaini by Friday morning at 10:00 am and the trek began. This is the second occasion when I was trekking with the Bikat and after my “death by exhaustion” experience in the previous climb to Har-ki-Dun I was decently prepared, thanks to my training for ADHM.
As you start walking, immediately the noise of cars, the fume of trucks and the traffic on the road gives way to a calmness, which cannot be described in words.
The gushing sound of the river, the chirping of the birds and the silence of the forest engulf you as if you have entered into another world, a world of languid green.
The first days trek is from the village Gushaini to Rola, around 9 kms along the river Tirthan. The monsoon had painted the valley a deep green with its brush and our group of trekkers began the journey.
The first day required us to traverse 8 – 9 km with a gentle gradient and all of us began walking at our own pace. The thing I love most about these treks, for the introvert I am, it gives you an opportunity to cut yourself away from the rest of the world and lose yourself in the moment.
As I kept walking I realized that I had taken a path and gone ahead, whereas the others were waiting at a point where the road forked. I had to retrace my steps back only to realize that the path was the right one.
Soaking in the sights of the Tirthan valley, I walked along the river and we reached a small village on the way. There we got a chance to taste the juice of the burans flower, which is the rhododendron species found in the valley. The taste and freshness of the juice still linger in my mouth and it was the perfect antidote for our tired legs and the walk ahead.
After the refreshing juice we were supposed to stop at mobile point for our packed lunches. It was a beautiful spot with a small shed for people to rest their tired legs and enjoy the view of the whole valley spread beyond - a feast for the eyes.
After resting for some time there we started the remaining walk to Rola, our campsite for the evening. Unlike the previous treks, where the cold and exhaustion had taken a toll on me today's was a walk in the park. We reached our campsite in the afternoon and waited for the rest of our group to join us.
The campsite was by the river and there were huts built for our porters to put in their stuff and arrange for a makeshift kitchen. Our cook got into the act while all of us started putting our tents in place.
After putting up our tents and having a cup of warm tea we all were pretty comfortable with each other. The conversation gave way to songs and the valley echoed with old Hindi music and some Sufi couplets.
In moments like these, I fall into a space of my own, away from everything, lost in the million stars in the sky, in the huge expanse of the valley and I realize how fortunate I am to be able to experience and treasure all this and more.
With the music, we had fresh trout from the Tirthan and being a true blood Oriya, devoured a whole lot of fish when the others were concentrating on which song to sing next. With the day coming to an end we had our dinner and went into our tents for a good night’s honest sleep, expectant of what awaits us tomorrow.
We got up early in the morning. After a sumptuous breakfast, we started trekking into the wilderness. It was a vertical climb through a dense green forest.
Our guide Basant, guided through the initial phase and once we got used to the surroundings it was a beautiful climb in the woods.
It was a really steep climb and after an hour, we rested under a rock with the porters.
The porters were locals from the area. They were walking up the hills as if it’s a stroll in the park whereas we were tired like crazy. After a brief rest, we resumed trekking again and I picked up the pace. I wanted to reach the top and enjoy the beautiful view.
As we took a turn away from the face of the mountain the sun shined through the dense tree cover and the warm rays rejuvenated us for the further walk.
Today, when I think about that moment all I remember, is the vast expanse of the horizon, the deep green meadow and the calmness which keeps pulling me back to the mountains and I will always be grateful to Ritvij for introducing me to this new world.
After finally reaching the hut all we did was falling asleep over a mat under the warm sunshine.
Later, over a cup of tea, we all shared our experiences. That was the evening of accomplishment we cherished every bit of it.
After the adventures of two days of climbing, the third day beckoned. We had to climb down the distance we had covered in two days. We started the day after a refreshing breakfast and the descent was beautiful. We started with the views of the mountains in front of us and the meadows, and as we covered some distance we were back into the dense green foliage of the valley. The porters while going down run on the way like hares, fast and nimble and I tried to copy them thinking it would be fun. I fell down like a million times on the way, but the thrill of running down the mountain with nothing to stop you was exhilarating and after some time my legs just kept on the tempo, even when the mind was asking it to take it slow.
Through all these three days, my ‘constant’ was the feeling of peace which was always there with me. Whether it’s a climb, or a descent, you are always alone with the elements. How far you can walk, how high you can climb, how strong your legs, are the questions nature asks from you. You are far away from your daily existence and your mind dwells on thoughts that you don’t grasp in the daily life you live. You are away from the claustrophobic masses of cars, there are no skyscrapers, there are no WhatsApp messages flooding your inbox, no smartphones to lure you into their world of apps. It’s just you and the world as it is, a rare moment of solitude.
We finally reached Gushaini and the sense of completing another trek was a satisfying one, back into the daily chaos, but stronger and fresher with the air of the Tirthan.